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A C.D.C. recommendation to test fewer people for the virus raises concerns.
Trump administration officials on Wednesday defended a new recommendation that people without Covid-19 symptoms abstain from testing, even as scientists warned that the policy could hobble an already weak federal response as schools reopen and a potential fall wave looms.
The day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued the revised guidance, there were conflicting reports on who was responsible.
Two federal health officials said the shift came as a directive to the C.D.C. from higher-ups at the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Adm. Brett P. Giroir, the administration’s coronavirus testing czar, called it a “C.D.C. action,” but he acknowledged that the revision came after a vigorous debate among members of the White House coronavirus task force — including its newest member, Dr. Scott W. Atlas, a frequent Fox News guest and a special adviser to President Trump.
“We all signed off on it, the docs, before it ever got to a place where the political leadership would have, you know, even seen it, and this document was approved by the task force by consensus,” Dr. Giroir said. He said “there was no weight on the scales” from the president.
Regardless of who was responsible, the shift is highly significant, running counter to scientific evidence that people without symptoms may be the most prolific spreaders of the virus.
And it comes at a very precarious moment.
Hundreds of thousands of college and K-12 students are heading back to campus, and broad testing regimens are central to many of their schools’ plans. Businesses are reopening, and scientists inside and outside the administration are growing concerned about political interference in scientific decisions.
“The only plausible rationale,” said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, a Democrat, “is that they want fewer people taking tests, because as the president has said, if we don’t take tests, you won’t know the number of people who are Covid-positive.”
In an interview, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said he had seen an early iteration of the new guidelines and did not object.
But the final debate over the revisions took place during a meeting that Dr. Fauci could not attend. In retrospect, he said, he has “some concerns” about advising people against getting tested.
“My concern is that it will be misinterpreted,” he said.
The Justice Department says it may investigate 4 Democratic-led states over nursing-home outbreaks.
The Justice Department has asked New York, New Jersey, Michigan and Pennsylvania for information about steps their governors took in response to the pandemic to determine whether they may have contributed to the spread of the disease in nursing homes.
The department said that directives by the governors, all Democrats, may have allowed people admission to elder-care facilities without adequate testing.
It cited a March 25 order from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York that no nursing home resident could be denied admission or readmission “solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of Covid-19.”
The department said that it might open a formal investigation, depending on the information it receives from the states.
“The Civil Rights Division seeks to determine if the state orders requiring admission of Covid-19 patients to nursing homes is responsible for the deaths of nursing home residents,” the department said in a statement Wednesday.
The request for information comes at a delicate time for Mr. Cuomo.
Republicans in the state Legislature and in Washington have said that his policies were to blame for 6,500 coronavirus-related deaths in nursing homes and other care facilities, a death toll that is much higher than those in other states.
About 40 percent of the nearly 180,000 deaths in the United States attributed to the coronavirus have been connected to nursing homes and other long-care facilities, according to a New York Times database.
According to Mr. Cuomo’s office, New York, New Jersey and Michigan are in a group of eight states that include presumed Covid-19 fatalities, rather than just confirmed ones, in their total of nursing home deaths.
The questions, and any subsequent federal investigation, would apply only to facilities run or owned by the state, the governor’s office said, which is a small percentage of the total.
Mr. Cuomo said that infected health care workers, not his policies, helped spread the virus among the state’s nursing homes.
He issued a joint statement with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, calling the effort “nothing more than a transparent politicization of the Department of Justice in the middle of the Republican National Convention.”
The statement also noted: “At least 14 states — including Kentucky, Utah and Arizona — have issued similar nursing guidance all based on federal guidelines, and yet the four states listed in the D.O.J.’s request have a Democratic governor.”
The statement also suggested that the department should send a similar letter to the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “since the state’s advisories were modeled after their guidance.”
At the Republican Convention, masks and social distancing have been largely absent.
Halfway through the Republican convention, there have been some notable omissions: a traditional party platform, any mention of impeachment, and much meaningful reckoning with the tens of thousands of Americans who have died from the coronavirus.
But perhaps even more conspicuously absent are masks, whether on President Trump or on those in his immediate orbit, some of whom have been featured in segments that were pretaped at the White House.
No masks when Mr. Trump recognized frontline workers. No masks when Mr. Trump presided over a naturalization ceremony. No masks during the made-for-TV pardoning of a former inmate.
Even when Melania Trump gave a keynote speech Tuesday night in front of a crowd in the White House Rose Garden, very few audience members wore masks, and the attendees did not practice social distancing. The White House said they had been tested for the virus.
The Republican convention has not been completely devoid of masks. On Monday in Charlotte, N.C., all of the 336 delegates who took part in nominating Mr. Trump were required to cover their faces.
But the absence of masks rings at high-profile moments made for a stark contrast with the Democratic National Convention last week. That culminated with former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his wife, Jill Biden, putting on masks to wave to supporters in a parking lot outside a convention center in Wilmington, Del.
Democrats made the virus, as well as the Trump administration’s failure to contain it, a dominant theme of their convention. The Republicans have mentioned the virus far less — and when they have, it has sometimes been in the past tense.
“Then came a once-in-100-year pandemic,” Larry Kudlow, the president’s top economic adviser, said in his convention speech. “It was awful. Health and economic impacts were tragic. Hardship and heartbreak were everywhere. But presidential leadership came swiftly and effectively with an extraordinary rescue for health and safety to successfully fight the Covid virus.”
In fact, the nation is still averaging more than 40,000 new cases and more than 900 deaths each day.
Mr. Trump, too, spoke of the virus near the end of his nearly hourlong speech to delegates in Charlotte, N.C., on Monday afternoon, citing the death toll. “We will never forget the 175,000 people,” he said.
Two days later, it was bearing down on 180,000.
California makes a deal to more than double testing capacity and get results faster.
California officials announced a deal on Wednesday to more than double the state’s coronavirus testing capacity, and to turn test results around in no more than two days.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said the arrangement with PerkinElmer, a diagnostics company based in Massachusetts, would allow California to essentially build its own testing lab as flu season approaches, processing tens of thousands of additional tests a day by November and up to 150,000 new tests daily by spring. The state currently averages about 100,000 coronavirus tests a day.
Taking advantage of California’s size and formidable buying power, the contract requires the company to deliver results in 24 to 48 hours, allowing public health officials to more quickly identify and contain outbreaks. And the state will pay about $31 a test, compared with $150 to $200 now.
“This is exactly what the federal government should be doing,” Governor Newsom said, adding that the contract will save taxpayers, employers and health insurers billions of dollars.
The announcement came soon after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quietly scaled back its testing guidelines, saying that people who don’t have symptoms of Covid-19 no longer needed to be tested, even if they had been exposed to the virus — a change that federal officials said was ordered by higher-ups in the Trump administration.
Public health experts, who attribute much of the virus’s spread to people who are infected but not symptomatic, called the guideline change alarming and dangerous.
California was the first state to recommend testing some people without symptoms, and officials have been vocal about the need for widespread testing — particularly among people disproportionately affected by the virus, like Latinos working in essential jobs.
In mid-July, though, the state had to narrow its testing guidelines as it contended with soaring cases and a national shortage of testing supplies.
Testing availability has varied widely across the country, and waits for results have stretched into weeks in some cases, making it impossible to warn contacts in time to contain the spread. The onset of flu season is expected to make matters worse, as doctors do still more testing to determine whether a patient with respiratory symptoms has the flu or Covid-19.
Mr. Newsom said the deal with PerkinElmer would allow health care workers in California to test simultaneously for the flu and Covid-19 at no additional cost.
The F.D.A. has approved a compact virus test that gives results in 15 minutes.
The Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency authorization to Abbott for a cheap, portable coronavirus test that gives results in 15 minutes, the company said on Wednesday.
The device is about the size of a credit card, and opens like a book to reveal a small well. A health practitioner takes a swab from the patient’s nostrils, adds a few drops of chemicals into the hole, inserts the swab directly into the card and rotates it.
The device, called the BinaxNOW Covid-19 Ag Card, works by rapidly detecting fragments of virus in a sample, a method known as an antigen test. But while such tests are faster than those that rely on a technology called polymerase chain reaction, or P.C.R., they tend to miss more infections.
BinaxNOW is the fourth coronavirus antigen test to win an emergency authorization from the F.D.A. Earlier this month, the agency cleared one made by LumiraDx, a British firm.
Abbott said its new test detected virus in 97.1 percent of people who have it, and accurately reported no virus in 98.5 percent of people who don’t.
In March, the F.D.A. approved another rapid test developed by Abbott that was later found to miss a significant number of infections.
The BinaxNOW test will come with a mobile app for iPhone and Android devices that updates each time a person retakes it.
In a statement, the company said it would begin shipping millions of tests in September, ramping up to 50 million a month beginning in early October.
The test will cost $5.
N.Y.C.’s subway and bus service would be reduced by 40 percent without federal aid, the M.T.A. warns.
Facing a staggering financial crisis and a stalemate in Washington, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority threatened on Wednesday to adopt a doomsday plan if it did not receive as much as $12 billion in federal aid, including slashing subway and bus service in New York City by 40 percent.
The plan paints a bleak picture for riders: Wait times would increase by eight minutes on the subway and 15 minutes on buses; Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North trains would run at 60- or 120-minute intervals. Upgrades to the subway’s signal systems, which have been the source of many delays, would be scrapped.
The state-run agency is facing a staggering $16.2 billion deficit through 2024, after the pandemic wiped out its operating revenue — which comes from fares, tolls and subsidies — virtually overnight. Ridership on the subway, which plummeted by 90 percent in April, has only reached a quarter of usual levels, even as more and more New Yorkers return to work.
The transit agency has requested $12 billion in aid to cover its operating losses through 2024. But after negotiations over the next stimulus package stalled earlier this month, immediate federal support did not appear to be forthcoming.
At U.S.C., classes are online, but university officials report an ‘alarming increase’ in cases anyway.
A Monopoly game, a study group and other small gatherings in off-campus apartments have landed more than 100 students in quarantine at the University of Southern California, where health officials have reported an “alarming increase” in cases in the first week of the fall semester, even though classes are almost entirely online.
At least 43 U.S.C. students have tested positive since Aug. 16, the day before classes started, according to a memo released this week by university health officials. At least 14 of the cases were identified through testing of people without symptoms; others were identified through contact tracing and testing of symptomatic and exposed students.
The numbers are small compared with those of schools like the University of Alabama, where more than 500 infections were reported this week, days after the resumption of classes. But they were striking given U.S.C.’s extensive preventive efforts.
Instruction at U.S.C. has been almost entirely remote because of high infection rates in the surrounding Los Angeles County, and only about 700 of the school’s 48,500 students are living in campus housing, according to Jeremy Pepper, a campus spokesman. Access to the campus has been restricted, and students have been advised by the university to stay home if they can.
But because of leases that couldn’t be broken or the desire for social interaction, many students — as at other institutions around the country — have moved into apartment buildings near campus.
Earlier this month, a photo of a crowded bash at a big off-campus apartment complex near U.S.C. went viral on Reddit. But the current surge is arising from smaller, more mundane venues.
Among those now in quarantine are three students apparently infected during a Monopoly game and a five-person study group in which at least four students tested positive, according to Dr. Kimberly Tilley, co-medical director of U.S.C. Student Health.
“We’re not hearing about big parties,” Dr. Tilley said. “We’re hearing, ‘Three girls across the hall came over for dinner, and then the next day, we visited some other friends at their apartment.’”
In other education news:
A New York Times survey found more than 26,000 cases at more than 750 American colleges and universities over the course of the pandemic. Clusters of cases have emerged in recent weeks in dorms, on Greek rows and at college bars, in some cases upending plans for the fall semester. Stuart Bell, the University of Alabama president, warned in a note to students and employees this week that those who violated health restrictions were “subject to harsh disciplinary action, up to and including suspension.” More than 500 cases have already been identified on Alabama’s flagship campus in Tuscaloosa.
The pandemic continues to undermine plans for even a truncated, diminished college football season, less than two weeks before its scheduled start. North Carolina State and Virginia Tech, who were to play their Atlantic Coast Conference game on Sept. 12, said on Wednesday that the matchup would be postponed until Sept. 26 because of a cluster of cases within N.C. State’s athletic department. Other programs are also struggling. Texas Tech announced on Tuesday that it had 21 active cases in its football program, and Coach Lincoln Riley of the University of Oklahoma told reporters that an entire position group — except for one player — had to stop practicing because of positive test results.
Should I stay or should I go? When a storm threatens a virus hot spot, it may not be an easy call.
The decision to evacuate when a hurricane looms can be a difficult one in the best of circumstances. It becomes even more agonizing in the grip of a pandemic.
As Hurricane Laura roars toward Louisiana and Texas, many people living in the storm’s path, especially those with heightened vulnerability or with older relatives to care for, have had to weigh the risk of riding out the storm at home against the risk of exposure to the virus if they flee. Others lack the means to escape because their livelihoods have been eviscerated as the economy cratered.
Those two states were hit hard by the virus over the summer, though they have made some progress lately, with daily reports of new cases declining somewhat from their July peaks, according to a New York Times database. Louisiana has had more virus cases per capita than any other state in the country. And Arkansas, where it appears the storm will head next as it moves inland, has been struggling with rising deaths from the virus.
Like many of his neighbors, Chris Vinn of Lake Charles, La., got busy boarding up his house soon after officials issued a mandatory evacuation order. Mr. Vinn, who tested positive for the virus in July, and his family decided to leave, but not to an evacuation center. They booked an Airbnb about three hours’ drive away in Lafayette instead.
“We do try to take safety precautions as much as possible, so we did not want to be in a hotel full of people or run to a shelter or anything like that,” Mr. Vinn said.
Memories of another major storm, Hurricane Rita in 2005, kept Amy L’Hoste from evacuating from Lake Charles this time. She said she did not want to repeat the terrifying experience of riding out that storm at her grandparents’ house in Ragley, La., about 20 miles north. “I’ll never forget waking up the next morning, and it looked like a war zone,” she said.
As of Wednesday morning, the State of Louisiana had evacuated about 900 people who lacked ready access to transportation out of the Lake Charles area to hotel rooms elsewhere, mostly around Baton Rouge, according to Mike Steele, a state spokesman.
Kenya’s president extends a nationwide 9 p.m. curfew for another 30 days.
Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, has extended a nightly nationwide curfew aimed at curbing the pandemic as the virus burrows deeper into the East African nation.
In a speech delivered on Wednesday, Mr. Kenyatta said that while Kenyans were responsibly following Covid-19 protocols and infections had been reduced to a “manageable level,” the disease was still spreading.
“The new frontier of this invisible enemy is increasingly shifting to the counties and rural areas,” he said.
Kenya has reported 33,016 cases and 564 deaths from the virus.
The curfew runs from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m., and will be extended for another 30 days. Mr. Kenyatta said that the closure of bars and nightclubs would continue for another month, and that restaurants should close at 8 p.m. instead of 7 p.m.
Investigations related to stolen funds at government medical agencies should conclude in the next three weeks, Mr. Kenyatta added. Allegations of impropriety had pushed public medical workers to go on strike last week, creating a dire health care crisis.
Mr. Kenyatta also lifted a ban on the secondhand clothing trade that the authorities had instituted in late March as a precautionary measure.
In other news from around the world:
The World Economic Forum is pushing back its annual summit in Davos, Switzerland, from January to early next summer, it announced on Wednesday. The annual gathering of the global elite in the Alps normally brings together about 3,000 of the world’s most prominent executives and political leaders. Organizers made the decision to postpone on the advice of experts, who said the gathering could not convene safely in January.
For the first time in three months, virus infections in South Africa have fallen below 2,000 per day. The country saw a peak of 13,944 daily cases in July, but recorded 1,677 on Monday and 1,567 on Tuesday. But as confirmed cases are decreasing, fewer tests are being carried out, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said this week.
The Vatican announced on Wednesday that, starting next month, Pope Francis would resume his weekly Wednesday audience in public, six months after the coronavirus put a halt to the pontiff’s participatory events with the faithful.
Days before schools are set to open in Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday that it would be “clearly nonsensical” for students to wear face masks in class. “You can’t teach with face coverings, you can’t expect people to learn with face coverings. The most important thing is just to wash your hands,” Mr. Johnson said. In areas where local lockdowns are in place, students and staff members will be required to wear masks in communal areas with the exception of classrooms, where the government said “protective measures already mean the risks are lower.”
North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has urged his government to eliminate “shortcomings” and “defects” in its battle against Covid-19, state media reported. The country has reported no infections, but outside experts are skeptical, citing its decrepit public health system and its proximity to China, where the virus was first detected.
The local authorities have tightened restrictions in Marseille, the second-largest city in France, where the per capita rate of cases is more than four times the national rate. Under the new rules, which begin on Wednesday night and will remain in effect until at least Sept. 30, wearing a mask will be mandatory throughout the city. Bars and restaurants in the Bouches-du-Rhône region, which includes Marseille, will have to close overnight.
Phil Hogan, the influential trade commissioner for the European Union, resigned Wednesday night over breaches of virus guidelines during a recent dinner with lawmakers and other public figures in his native Ireland. The dinner, attended by about 80 politicians and government officials, violated a ban on large gatherings and fueled a sense that the powerful consider themselves above the rules they impose on others. The uproar had already led to the resignation of Ireland’s agriculture minister and the disciplining of several lawmakers.
The Hamas-run Health Ministry in the blockaded Gaza Strip announced 21 new cases of community transmission of the virus on Wednesday and two virus-related deaths as the authorities sought to contain the pandemic.
A study finds a clue about why the virus hits men harder than women.
Older men are up to twice as likely to become severely sick and to die from the coronavirus as women of the same age.
Why? The first study to look at immune response by sex has turned up a clue: Men produce a weaker immune response to the virus than women, the researchers concluded.
The findings, published on Wednesday in Nature, suggest that men, particularly those over 60, may need to depend more on vaccines to protect against the infection.
“Natural infection is clearly failing” to spark adequate immune responses in men, said Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale who led the work.
The results are consistent with what’s known about sex differences following various challenges to the immune system. Women mount faster and stronger immune responses, perhaps because their bodies are rigged to fight pathogens that threaten unborn or newborn children.
The findings underscore the need for companies pursing vaccines to parse their data by sex and may influence decisions about dosing, said Dr. Marcus Altfeld, an immunologist at the Heinrich Pette Institute and at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany, and other experts.
“You could imagine scenarios where a single shot of a vaccine might be sufficient in young individuals or maybe young women, while older men might need to have three shots of vaccine,” Dr. Altfeld said.
Long shielded by geography, U.S. islands see cases grow.
American islands in the Caribbean and Pacific, including the state of Hawaii, are emerging as some of the nation’s most alarming virus hot spots.
For months, geographic isolation helped spare Hawaii, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands early on. All adopted early mitigation efforts, and were able to restrict travelers more readily than mainland states could.
But their cases are surging now, revealing how the virus can spread rapidly in places with relaxed restrictions, sluggish contact tracing and widespread pressure to end the economic pain that comes with lockdowns.
Inconsistent reopenings have sown confusion in Hawaii, especially in Honolulu, where gyms remain open but hiking trails and parks are closed. Restaurants in the city are open, but residents are not supposed to entertain visitors at home. Hawaii now ranks among the states where new cases have grown fastest over the past 14 days.
The situation on Guam, an American territory in the western Pacific, seems especially problematic. Cases are emerging in several schools, at the territorial port authority and in an emergency dispatch center.
The U.S. military has a major presence on Guam, with large naval and air bases. When the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt was stricken with a virus outbreak in the spring, the ship put in to Guam, and hundreds of sailors were quarantined on shore.
The U.S. Virgin Islands, which registered almost no cases in the early days of the pandemic, is now dealing with nearly 1,000 new cases a day, pushing its per capita infection numbers higher than those of several states. The authorities are shutting nonessential businesses and imposing stay-at-home orders, checking all visitors’ temperatures and conducting aggressive testing of residents.
One exception to the crisis unfolding on U.S. islands: American Samoa, an archipelago in the Pacific, remains the only territory or state in the country without a single confirmed case.
In other news from around the United States:
New Mexico will allow indoor dining to resume on Saturday at restaurants, bars and similar establishments, at 25 percent of normal capacity, the office of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement. Houses of worship will be allowed to operate at 40 percent of capacity, up from 25 percent now.
In New Jersey, Gov. Philip D. Murphy said Wednesday that “if the data that we look at stays as good as it is,” he hoped that indoor dining could resume before mid-September. He added that there was no set date so “I’m not hanging my hat on it.” Movie theaters could be reopened around the same time, he said. Gyms, though, got a firm reopening date: Tuesday, with 25 percent capacity, masks and other rules. Health clubs in the state have been closed since March for everything other than personal training sessions.
A cluster of cases in rural Maine that has been linked to a wedding reception held in early August in the town of Millinocket has spread to a county jail elsewhere in the state, infecting 18 inmates and employees, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
New York City’s mayor said Wednesday that officials have stopped more than 3,000 vehicles entering the city as part of a move to promote compliance with the state’s 14-day quarantine requirement for many travelers.
New York City’s largest municipal union has filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the American Museum of Natural History over the institution’s plan to require employees to record possible virus symptoms on an app. The head of the union called the requirement overly intrusive.
Reporting was contributed by Katie Benner, Katrin Bennhold, Alan Blinder, Chelsea Brasted, Aurelien Breeden, Alexander Burns, Michael Cooper. Jill Cowan, Abdi Latif Dahir, Steven Erlanger, Christina Goldbaum, Lauren Hirsch, Shawn Hubler, Choe Sang-Hun, Mike Ives, Andrew Jacobs, Julia Jacobs, Isabella Kwai, Alex Lemonides, Patrick J. Lyons, Apoorva Mandavilli, Jonathan Martin, Patricia Mazzei, Jesse McKinley, Heather Murphy, Elian Peltier, Elisabetta Povoledo, Adam Rasgon, Campbell Robertson, Rick Rojas, Simon Romero, Amanda Rosa, Anna Schaverien, Mitch Smith, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Eileen Sullivan, Tracey Tully, Neil Vigdor, Billy Witz and Katherine J. Wu.
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